theGrio’s 100: Dylan C. Penningroth, behind groundbreaking research in slavery

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Who is Dylan C. Penningroth?

Dylan C. Penningroth is a history professor at Northwestern University, who specializes in African-American socio-legal history. Prior to this position, he was assistant professor of history for four years at the University of Virginia.

He is the author of The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South, which in 2004 won the Avery Craven Prize from the Organization of American Historians. The annual award is handed out to the most original book on the American Civil War or the Era of Reconstruction.

His articles have appeared in the Journal of American History, the American Historical Review, and the Journal of Family History. Penningroth has won a number of awards, including an NEH, an NSF, the Huggins-Quarles, a Weinberg College Teaching Award, a McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence, and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

He is a graduate of Yale University and holds a masters degree and a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.

Why is he on theGrio’s 100?

Penningroth, 41, is an associate professor of history at Northwestern University and holds a joint appointment as a research professor at the American Bar Foundation. His work examines shifting theories of property ownership and kinship to shed light on long-obscured aspects of African American life from the heyday of plantation slavery to the half-century following the abolition of slavery.

By compiling evidence from vast and widely scattered archives, Penningroth is painting a more vivid picture about the ways slaves and their descendants recognized what belonged to whom.

For his groundbreaking and thought-provoking research, Penningroth was honored with a coveted 2012 MacArthur Fellowship. He was one of 23 fellows, who each were awarded an unrestricted $500,000 ‘genius grant,’ selected from hundreds of anonymous nominations, identified for their creativity, and promise to contribute positively in the future.

What next for Penningroth?

Penningroth is currently working on a study of African Americans’ encounter with law from the Civil War to World War II. Combining legal and social history, the study explores the practical meaning of legal rights for black life. His next project is a study of the legacy of slavery in colonial Ghana.